From overcoming implicit biases, to battling more pervasive issues such as discrimination and gender inequality, there are many reasons to consider hiring accomplished female executive coaches.
With the fresh perspective, shared experience, and added diversity that they bring to the table, female executive coaches can be the key to Unlocking Bold Change™ on both an individual and organizational level.
While women make up over half of the adult population in the US, they hold only 8% of leadership positions in Fortune 500 companies.
That number is even lower in male-dominated industries such as technology, finance, engineering, and manufacturing.
As a result, in seats of power where decisions are made, women are often at best mistaken for secretaries, and at worst, not even taken into consideration. Ask any woman working in mid-management all the way up to C-Suite and nearly all will be able to tell you a time when they were either mistaken for an assistant or secretary or just outright ignored.
At the very top, these instances of bias and displays of inequality can cross over into the outrageous. Take for example Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, who recounted a time when she was presenting to a private equity firm in their executive suite conference room. During a break, she inquired as to the location of the ladies’ room, and the firm’s senior partner could not tell her where it was. Turns out, even though the firm had moved into that location over a year prior, Ms. Sandberg was the first woman to do business there.
What Sandberg’s story tells us is that, despite efforts to achieve gender parity in business leadership and the progress of recent years, we still have a long way to go before it becomes the norm.
Ambitious women who are “climbing the ladder” are often greatly outnumbered by men—the gender gap in business looks more like a chasm the higher they go. When it comes to leadership, the numbers favor the men. That’s not just an opinion or speculation, it’s a statistically proven fact.
Even though men and women enter the workforce at the same time and pace, when you start to examine higher levels of management, it becomes clear that men are favored for promotions and more rapidly advance. If you need convincing, just take a look at this report from McKinsey, which revealed that “for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 85 women were promoted.”
Therefore, it’s extremely likely that the women who hold leadership positions in business—especially in male-dominated industries—by default, have already been directly or indirectly coached, influenced, or mentored by men in their careers.
The best Executive Coaches know how to ask powerful questions, identify behavior patterns, and help their clients to get comfortable with discomfort. They also provide accountability and bring biases to the forefront. For those reasons, hiring female executive coaches is a natural choice.
That’s not to say that working with male coaches is bad. There are plenty of terrific male executive coaches. But hiring a female for executive coaching provides a fresh perspective and increases diversity. Women, specifically, get the added benefit of working with someone who has shared life experiences. Men, on the other hand, can learn to be more emotionally intuitive, and disrupt harmful patterns of bias and discrimination. When men are coached by other men, it can often continue the perpetuation of blind spots and the status quo.
Businesswomen often face specific challenges and pressures that only other women can fully understand. Motherhood, for example, is extremely experiential. You can read about it, research it, and discuss it, but you have to experience it to know what it’s like and to comprehend the ways in which it changes your life. For ambitious career women, being coached by someone who can speak to the challenges of juggling work and family will be an invaluable experience.
Companies and business leaders typically hire executive coaches for three reasons:
If a business owner or executive is involved in the process of hiring a coach, there is an understanding of why they are there and an equitable partnership is expected. No coach worth their salt is going to come in and be deferential, nor will they be overly concerned with offending their client. While they will be polite and professional, they will be direct when pointing out areas of concern.
In addition, power differentials often exist within teams and the workplace in general. Let’s face it, managers often have a lot of power over their employee’s careers. They decide who gets promotions, challenging assignments, and career-building opportunities. This can create an uncomfortable situation for employees in general, but especially with women. Many women report feeling compelled to be overly diplomatic, reserved, and cautious when pointing out issues such as bias, discrimination, harassment, or simple double-standards. These are all issues that coaches frequently deal with and understand how to navigate.
The equitable partnership between a coach and their client allows for difficult, candid, and oftentimes uncomfortable conversations that need to be had in order to create change. Not only at the individual level, but at the organizational level as well.
Biases can run rampant and things need to change within our society, culture, and corridors of business. Women often have subtle unconscious biases against themselves that can negatively impact their career. Being coached by professionally trained women can help them to identify the ways in which they may be unintentionally holding themselves back. The fresh perspectives, objectivity, and experience that an executive coach brings to a coaching situation will foster the change needed to eradicate these biases.
Several years ago, I attended a training led by an internationally acclaimed speaker and businesswoman. Throughout the entire week-long event, she doted on and deferred to the male participants. Consequently, she was perceived as insecure, and it negatively impacted how people did business with her at the conference.
While she was hugely accomplished, her bias against herself was crystal clear. She needed attention and reinforcement from men. Later, I learned she was cut from consideration for a speaking engagement at a major conference because of this behavior.
In another case, I had a client who came to me for leadership coaching. Turns out, the biggest leadership challenge she faced was with her husband, whom she’d recruited to be the CFO of her company. When I asked her why she felt she had to have him as CFO, she reported, “Well, I’m just not that good at business.”
This is a woman who, in under three years, expanded her company to seven locations, almost thirty employees, and more clients than she could handle. Yet, because she wasn’t good at math, she believed she couldn’t “successfully” run a business without her husband.
When I pointed out that she’d created an enviable business in record time, all before hiring her husband, she felt unexpected pride in herself, only diminished by the sadness she felt for creating a problem borne out of her own insecurity and bias against herself.
In my work with women, I often see them failing to set firm boundaries in all aspects of their lives and careers. Because they are concerned with what others will think of them, they are afraid of conflict or are simply unaware of their default behaviors. From the seemingly benign practice of taking on “domestic chores” such as cleaning up the office kitchen, to losing sleep at night because they’re worried about how they came across during the quarterly meeting, these behaviors add up and have an impact on their careers.
When women begin to recognize and actively combat the biases they have against themselves, they begin to show up differently in their lives and careers. It also has a “ripple-out” effect on the other women around them.
Research shows that when women lead, businesses succeed. This recent Harvard study revealed that business teams with a lower percentage of women tend to also have lower sales and profits than teams with a balanced gender mix. When those teams are diversified, it positively impacts the company’s performance.
Due to implicit bias, we often associate qualities of good leadership with masculinity. But according to a recent Harvard Business Review study, women outscored men on 17 of the 19 capabilities that differentiate excellent leaders from average or poor ones.
When women—and men for that matter—work with female executive coaches, they can start to dismantle long-standing stereotypes, and in turn, begin shaping a culture where gender equality is standard.
We need more female leaders, who are confident, self-aware, assertive, and emit and model executive presence. Who better to cultivate these strong women than female executive coaches?
If you’ve pursued other avenues and didn’t see the success you expected, maybe it’s time to upgrade your thinking, transform your behavior, and Unlock Bold Change™. As a successful female entrepreneur, I’ve battled mental blocks, challenged my beliefs, and overcome my own biases to become an award-winning and highly sought-after Executive Coach. I don’t work with companies that are simply looking to maintain the status quo—I help individuals and organizations shake things up with honest conversation, objective advice, and enthusiastic support.
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Coach Monique DeMonaco is a multi-certified, internationally trained Change Management Expert with 17 years of coaching experience specializing in stress, anxiety, depression, confidence issues, leadership challenges, and behavior change. As a highly sought-after Women’s Leadership Coach, all of Coach Monique’s work is based in Brain-Science, Emotional Intelligence (EQ), The Science of Well-Being, and The Psychology of Happiness. She is the recipient of Pittsburgh Professional Women’s 2021 Influential Leadership Award. Read more about Coach Monique »